John 4:7-26, 5:1-9, 8:1-12, 9:1-14

This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath.

—John 9:14

March Madness is one of my favorite events of the year. Office pools break out all over America, and productivity drops as workers track the scores of their favorite teams and sneak a peek at March Madness on demand. I fill out my Final Four bracket, as will millions of basketball fans who will try to pick the most winners, predict the teams that make it to the Final Four, and hope for a shot at a $1 billion prize with a perfect bracket.

It’s funny how people who don’t know basketball sometimes pick better brackets than the basketball junkies. The challenge is to pick the teams who will be the surprises of the tournament. The mass appeal of the tournament is fueled by the buzzer beater wins of the underdogs that upset the favorites.

Here is a brief tutorial for those who don’t follow the NCAA tournament. Play begins with sixty-eight teams. Four play-in games reduce the field to sixty-four teams. There are sixteen teams seeded 1 (the strongest) through 16 (the weakest) in each of four geographic regions: East, South, Midwest, and West. In the first round, the 8 seed meets the 9 seed, the 7 seed plays the 10 seed, and so forth, with the 1 playing the 16. The experts call it an 8-9 game or a 7-10 game. A 12 upsetting a 5 is fairly common, and a 13 over a 4 or a 14 over a 3 happens occasionally. Only four times in twenty-five years has a 15 defeated a The underdogs who pull off these stunning upsets are called bracket busters because they blow up your bracket after you picked a higher seed to advance.

But a 16 has never defeated a 1. The 16 seeds have a perfect 0-112 record in the first round. The closest call came when Princeton lost by one to Georgetown in 1989. Close, but no cigar. Below are the 1-16 matchups for the 2014 NCAA tournament: Florida, Arizona, WichitaState, and Virginia versus Albany, Weber State, Cal Poly or Texas Southern, and Coastal Carolina. You can easily see what a mismatch these games are.

Just as the odds are highly stacked against the lowest seeded teams, the odds were highly stacked against the lowest seeded people of Jesus’s day. Here is the way that the lowest seeds would have looked against the top seeds, who were the power brokers of the day.

1) Chief Priests vs. 16) Samaritan Woman at Well;

1) Pharisees vs. 16) Man Blind Since Birth;

1) Elders vs. Adulterous Woman to be Stoned;

1) Roman Rulers vs. 16) Crippled Man at Pool.

In a Jewish and Roman world that made outcasts of females, the weak, and the least fortunate, Jesus was the supernatural power behind these four bracket busters. Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water and promised her living water if she would only believe. Not only that, but Jesus admitted to her that he was the Messiah, as she rightly guessed. At the Bethesda pool, Jesus raised up a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. Then Jesus made the mud paste and gave sight to a man who had been blind since birth. Not only that, but he did it on the Sabbath, which infuriated the Pharisees. Last but not least, Jesus drew in the dirt with his finger and told the self-righteous mob to throw the stones at the adulterous woman if any of them had never sinned. His action rescued the adulterous woman, and Jesus told her to sin no more. These two women and two men, all seemingly without hope, received the greatest upset victories of their lives. Through the love, kindness, and power of Jesus and the mercy and grace of God, countless others continue to have hope.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for sending us Jesus to give hope to the blind, the lame, the outcasts, and to all who have odds that appear to be insurmountable. Through your unconditional love, mercy, and grace, help me remember that all people have hope through Jesus Christ regardless of circumstance. In the holy name of Jesus, amen.

Who do you know that would be considered an outcast in today’s society? Show them how much God loves them, no matter what they’ve done or where they’ve been.